Johannesburg - During the 57th minute of the third and final Test between South Africa and England last weekend, Springbok flyhalf Elton Jantjies grassed one of those innocuous to and fro kicks teams engage in to gain territory with nary a would-be tackler in sight.
Having watched him play since 2010, it’s usually a sign that his head has just checked out of the game (he did the same thing against the All Blacks in New Zealand a couple of years ago).
It was also a heads-up for Bok coach Rassie Erasmus, who had gritted his teeth through an error-strewn first half by his stand-off, to mercifully substitute him.
As ever with Jantjies, the humiliation didn’t end there. Significant pockets of the Newlands crowd welcomed him to the bench with a chorus of boos.
In a strange way, there was no surprise in the hostility shown by the Cape Town fans.
There’s something about Jantjies that rubs the so-called traditional South African rugby fan up the wrong way - for some, it’s the tattoos and the hairstyle; others the puffed up chest; and maybe it’s even the frustration of his failure to take his Super Rugby peerlessness into Test rugby.
But the thing about last Saturday was that it wasn’t just his detractors who had the obligatory go at him, some of his supporters officially washed their hands of him.
At this juncture, I should probably declare my partiality to Jantjies.
Having met the 20-year-old when he was telling everyone he wanted to play 100 Tests for the Springboks - another thing that seems to have offended the delicate sensibilities of the game’s supposed custodians - I’ve always willed him on and love watching him when he’s got the magic wand in tow.
For all that, this isn’t a story advocating that he stays in the Bok team because, after 26 uneventful Tests, he is running the risk of becoming another Wynand Olivier, who got 38 international matches
to prove he didn’t have it at that level.
Rather, it occurred to me that maybe Jantjies needs a little love and understanding. Jantjies himself would tell me to get stuffed for suggesting that, but those sidetracked by the flash around Jantjies completely miss how tough he’s had it and how hard he’s worked for everything he has.
As the son of a soldier, he would have had an itinerant upbringing, which meant having to prove yourself in every new place you called home.
For those who recoil at how defensively he can come across, how would they deal with people obsessing about their hairstyles while shooting the lights out, week in and week out, as the best flyhalf in South Africa at Super Rugby?
Throughout his life (and this includes going to school at Florida in conservative Roodepoort), Jantjies has played with the burden of having people wish he’d fall flat on his face or be that chosen black flyhalf, so he constantly plays with a point to prove.
I know this is armchair psychology at its worst, but I have a theory about a potential contributing hindrance to Jantjies’ achieving the ultimate goal of being a top international flyhalf (don’t be fooled by the feigned indifference, he desperately wants to hack it at Test level, maybe a little too much).
Not only am I not convinced that he put in enough remedial psychological work into suddenly losing his father - who was his pillar for everything - five years ago, I’m also curious about whether he’s had a conversation with a professional about why he has struggled to make the step up.
Watching from the outside, it appears to me that Jantjies’ legendary work ethic is his attempt at ironing out what are essentially mental kinks physically.
And given the inconsistency that has crept into his play at Super Rugby level this season, has anyone considered that he may be exhausted from a combination of not having had an off-season in four years thanks to his Japanese club commitments and starting every Lions game in that time when fit?
These guys are human, they don’t cock up on purpose and, unlike us, their bad days at the office play out in front of 60 000 people.
Wherever he ends up, Jantjies needs an arm around his shoulder, not this gloating at his struggles.
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